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Emergency System Adds Sirens, Text Messaging

Adding to its ability to communicate in an emergency, the university will install an early warning system capable of siren and voice alerts across the campus and begin collecting cell phone numbers for the purpose of alerting the campus by text message.

The contract for the warning system has been awarded and installation will begin soon, with a goal of completion by January. The warning system could be used in any number of ways - whether the emergency is weather-related, such as an approaching tornado, or is more specific to the campus.

"For the new system to be most effective, we not only have to establish our protocols, but we need to educate the campus as to what to do when the sirens go off," said David Rainer, associate vice chancellor for environmental health and safety.    

The university will be testing a new text messaging notification system for emergencies in the near future. Faculty, staff members and students can sign up for this service through the MyPack Portal beginning later this fall.

If there is an emergency message issued by the university regarding class cancellations or delays due to weather, or other emergency conditions, an alert will be sent to everyone who has registered their text-enabled cell phones.  Since the number of characters for such a message is limited, the message likely will direct recipients to the university's home page.  (Standard text messaging fees would apply.  Sign-up is voluntary.  The university will only send notification messages in the event of an emergency or to test the system.)

"We understand the need to get timely information to the campus in an emergency," Rainer said. "We also know that even in the best of times there are barriers to getting a timely message out to 40,000 students, employees and campus visitors.  Our goal is to create a range of communication options and redundancies that give us the best chance to reach the most people as quickly as possible. Text messaging and the early warning system are logical additions to our communications tools."

The university currently communicates in an emergency through the home page, e-mail, building liaisons, media reports - including campus media - and a campus hotline. 

Rainer, who testified before a congressional committee in the spring on campus safety, is co-chair of the university's emergency response committee and also serves on safety committees assembled by the state attorney general and the UNC System.  The university committee reviews and evaluates NC State's communications protocols and abilities and also leads crisis drills that help the university understand how to respond to emergencies.

"At NC State, we continually evaluate our emergency preparedness," he said.  "We hold drills with campus decision-makers and with area emergency response agencies that allow us to practice any number of scenarios.  We also take steps to regularly communicate with students, employees and parents about campus safety measures.

"No crisis proceeds according to plan," Rainer added.  "By drilling and practicing, we give ourselves the opportunity to make decisions faster and to anticipate problems.  Those are important advantages in an emergency."